The breeze outside the Joseph Community Center barely stirred the tree branches, but wind and its possible effect on the Falls Creek Fire stirred the conversation inside the center. Concerns about predicted high winds forced a change in evacuation notice from Level 1 to Level 2 in areas close to the fire.
Participating agencies included the U.S. Forest Service, Oregon Department of Forestry, Wallowa County Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Services as well as the Joseph Fire Department and county commissioner Mike Hayward.
More than 100 residents packed the center to hear an inter-agency team discuss their latest efforts in fighting the fire as well as preparing for the winds forecast for Aug. 29.
Type 3 Incident Team Commander, Francis Tyler, said the fire has consumed about 400 acres. Tyler stipulated three objectives for fighting the fire, including public and firefighter safety, as the top priority, protection of structures and private property, followed by protecting natural resources.
Tyler said most of the fire activity is confined to the southern end of the fire and poses little threat to structures on Hurricane Creek or the surrounding areas. Throughout the evening Tyler and other officials emphasized that the increase in evacuation levels was strictly precautionary in nature and represented a “worst case scenario.”
Fire crews have placed over two miles of fire hoses pumping water from various creeks in the area. Tyler noted that the terrain is very steep, making the fire difficult to fight, but growth is fairly limited. “Fire lines are fairly secure although we occasionally have interior trees torch out and burn,” Tyler said.
After a 54-minute talk with a weather forecaster, Tyler said although the winds will come from the southwest and blow down Hurricane Creek Canyon toward residences, canyon wind speeds were scaled down from previous forecasts from 30 mph to 15-20 mph. “I feel better about that, but not real great about it,” he said.